Editor’s note: The Bulletin and its Newspapers in Education Program are proud to share the two first-place winning student essays in both the middle school and high school category as judged in our recent 2017 “Words Matter” Student Essay Contest. We asked students to address their essay to Central Oregonians by responding to the following question--In your life experience as a student and a young person, please write/explain how “Words Matter” to you, in one of the following areas: in writing, reading, life, communicating or in any other way you feel is important.
Ridgeview High School, Grade 10
Words Matter Winner: First Place in the High School Category
Words matter because words are what make us human. They separate us from other species, from the silicon brains of robots. They allow us to share memories, experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Communication on such a deep level is sacred to humanity, from the evolution of cognitive abilities to the evolutionist, to the sanctity of God-given instruction for the believer. Stories, told over and over again, connecting generations, giving life to new ideas. Words are what maintain the human soul, separating the human from the feral.
Memories, experiences, and emotions can all be evoked and shared through words. This may seem obvious, but is often overlooked. As an animal’s communication system does not contain vocabulary but only sounds that can send a vague message, they have no way to reminisce, or share past experiences; they only have the ability to express their current state. Humans, on the other hand, command this skill due to an extensive vocabulary. “The Power of Words” illustrates this poignantly:
“Words cannot imprint
The world on me.
Only life can register
A blackbird in a tree.
Yet when the blackbird’s gone,
Words can make me see
His red wing flash in summer
Just as it used to be.
Words are not the same,
But they will have to do.
Life keeps disappearing.
Words bring it back to view.”
While each experience only occurs once, words contain the power to bring that moment’s memory to mind, allowing it to be relived. Words are what give humans the ability to tell and retell stories, to give abstract thoughts and memories a “physical” form that allows others to connect to personal experiences.
Stories allow their recipients to get lost in another’s life. They enchant the young and old alike, providing life experience, allowing the reader to connect to a character without physically meeting them, knitting together a pathway to other’s emotions and thoughts. Such tales are unique to humanity, and allow readers and listeners to become lost in a world created by another’s mind. In each book I have read, I left a piece of my soul; as you read this, a part of you will be left here, too, and a part of you changed. From the recitation of folkloric tales to the reading of Hemingway and Faulkner, words weave a tapestry in the reader’s and listener’s mind. Through words, context is given, and imagination set aflame; lifetimes can be contained in a story’s words.
Throughout countless lifetimes, religion has held a prominent place in innumerable lives. Regardless of one’s system of belief, words hold and represent sacred power. In many religions, it is the rule book, a way of life. The passage “In the beginning was the Word” (King James Version Bible, John 1:1) demonstrates how vital words are, as seen in the way that “Word” is synonymous with “God”. For any who believes in a higher power, words are their primary source of communication: from the Jewish three daily prayers of Shacharit, Mincha, and Arvit, to the five daily Muslim prayers of Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Ishaa. To the Darwinist, words symbolize the zenith of the evolution of linguistics and cognitive abilities, an arduous journey with humanity emerging triumphant. They tell the tale of a collective humanity, all striving in their own way to explain the world and live up to their standards - an ability only humans are capable of.
In all, words are the driving force behind humanity. They are what give life to stories, breath new life into old memories, emotions, and experiences. Communication on such a deep level separates the human mind from any other organism. For the religious, they are a way to commune with the supernatural; to others they are the apex of human existence. But for all, words are a binding, sewing people together in their abilities to function on a higher plane that any other being on Earth. Words are what make us human.
Citation: Daniel, B. P., and Jen L. Tracewell. “The Power of Words, and Doors.”
Seven Peaks School, Grade 8
Words Matter Winner: First place in the Middle School Category
Each word, each phrase, each complement, each criticism is like a drop into the vast ocean of the human mind. One droplet of water may seem insignificant, but the pooling of millions, billions of words filled with love, hatred, companionship, or regret begin to fill the ocean. They come together, penetrating the deep recesses of the soul. But as we know, each word matters, each word makes a difference, an impact. It is the difference between the words frothing above the surface and the ones below, churning in the depths of the thinker’s sea of being.
The words above the waves, pieces of a public identity, foam over the surface for any passerby to see. As an outward aesthetic, people can exude confidence and positivity. They give compliments and show support. The sun shines bright on the surface of the sea, just as positivity and hope float atop the mind’s ocean. Above the waves, people give off an identity seldom the same as the authenticity that lies below. Compliments and love collect on the exterior of a person’s being. Do you believe that every “Good morning,” every “I love you,” and every “You’re beautiful” will stay afloat, basking in the sunshine, on the glittering surface of the individual’s sea of existence? The words on the surface leave effects on the human mind. They fill the ocean with happiness. The effects of the words on the surface are positive, while the other words filled with negativity and regret leave deeper marks, ones that lurk under the waves.
As the sun continues to warm the top of the sea, it tries to penetrate the depths of the ocean where true authenticity lies. At the bottom of the mind’s ocean live thoughts of judgement, disgust, hate. These words, said in anger or contempt, leave deeper scars: exchanges that left sadness or hate collect below the waves. Have you ever had a heated exchange? One filled with negativity? It could have ended in hurtful words or abusive actions; these all collect at the bottom of the mind’s sea along with the hurt and anger these arguments. Every “I hate you,” every “Go away,” and every “I’m not speaking to you” lurks in the deep abyss at the bottom of the water.
As the tides ebb and flow, the mind’s ocean continues to move, collecting each compliment and criticism. It could be argued that hurtful words have more of an impact, that they are remembered longer, and positivity lasts only for a moment before being forgotten. I believe that while each compliment may last only a moment, the hurtful words said in anger can make a person. It is not what is said to you but how you react. Use hurtful words to make you stronger, better, and more motivated. The words collecting on the surface of the waves are a mere facade while the words below the waves collect; creating a true authentic picture of oneself.
La Pine High School, Grade 10
Words Matter Winner: Second Place in the High School Category
“As soon go kindle fire with snow, as seek to quench the fire of love with words.” William Shakespeare himself was a poet who had a gift of turning language into a canvas that displayed an adventure in every scene. He turned a mere form of communication into a show, a show so divine that travelers far and wide could not resist seeing. He brought joy and laughter, as well as tears and heartbreak.
Even as a child, I was intrigued by the forms of communication we have designed merely by uttering noises with one another. Humans created words and speech; we began to write novels and tales of wild adventure. We turned lines of ink on a strip of bark into a vivid story at which we crave to move forth onto the next page. By the end of the tale we have found compassion for the characters and all we truly know of them, is black ink. We do we as a people have such a profound desire for the combinations of words that tickly our imagination and creativity? Rudyard Kipling, and English journalist in the early nineteen hundreds said, “Words are of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
As an individual I have always loved to read, I cherished creating an image and appearance for the characters. The more I read the more I fell into the plot and it no longer felt like reading, instead I was a part of the story myself. I was right there in the plot. Although I love to read, I have found that my greatest strengths lie in creating the story myself. Writing was liberating to me. I was infatuated with sitting down and writing fables that kindled my knack for adventure. Daring feats that I had accomplished as a child were replicated through words. Almost every word swept me away in a romance that I couldn’t resist. It was captivating. In short time, after beginning a writing session the chattering of the keyboard under my fingers had passed and all I could focus on was the story line at which only my mind had control. I couldn’t stop until either my story had a fitting ending or my mother came in demanding an intermission.
I love to speak publicly as well. I am a part of the FBLA organization (Future Business Leaders of America). This previous year I decided to step away from my oasis, testing and writing, and I did a speaking event. Introduction to Business Presentation was the event and it I created a seven-minute speech based upon the given topic. I revised my speech a thousand times. I practiced it until I was walking through the door to my presentation. I had no idea if I was going to be an exceptional speaker, but it turns out that my perseverance rewarded me. I took first at the state competition. I was quick to understand that I adored presenting.
Words have influenced me in a massive way, as well as many others. These stories, read and wrote, shaped my personality and influenced my creativity. When I speak in public I get a shock that carries through my body, pumps my veins, and gives me a satisfactory adrenaline rush. A rush compared to a biker or skydiver. Kipling was correct, no drug compares in aspect of the dopamine that the brain creates in presence of a good adventure. This excitement makes me wonder if Shakespeare had the same passion, or if it was just true talent. Either way I desire to draw the same audiences, I wish my tales to travel over oceans, through hard work, practice, and commitment. But, the tales must travel on the back of the words that carry them. For what would a true story be, without words?
Cascades Academy, Grade 8
Words Matter Winner: Second Place in the Middle School Category
Words are powerful entities. A statement can alter someone’s life. A sentence can change a person. A piece of paper can hold power. A simple speech can change the lives of millions. The words that people speak serve to enrich life and provide invisible color to our world.
A statement can alter someone’s life. A year or two ago, I remember being torn up about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I couldn’t pick just one passion. The world is filled with so many jobs, so many positions for people to fill. I have always had trouble choosing what I want to do for the rest of my life. I could be a doctor to help people, or a lawyer to defend people, or a policewoman to protect people. Or, I could be an author, to create, and inspire people. My friend and I were discussing this, and she said eighteen words that might have changed my life: Do what you want to do. Don’t spend the rest of your life doing something you don’t love. Something inside of me clicked. Why waste my life on something I’m not passionate about? Life is a gift, it is not something you want to waste or take for granted. Her words have motivated me to pursue a career in writing, and have potentially changed my life.
A sentence can change a person. The saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is inaccurate. While it is easy for some people to rise above the cruel words of others, many people find that spoken insults can cause more harm than physical pain. If someone punches you in the arm, you’ll find a bruise appearing. In time, the bruise will heal and your arm will be good as new. However, if someone insults your personality, your individuality, the center of your being that makes you who you are, your subconscious might hook itself onto that. Having been insulted before, I find that, at the end of the day, when your bruises are healed, you will remember the abusive remark and you will try to change yourself because of it. In my opinion, that is more harmful than any kick or punch.
A piece of paper can hold power. In Nazi Germany in the 1930’s, books were being burned. The books targeted opposed Nazi ideals or were seen as subversive. Simple pieces of paper covered in ink and strung together were seen as a threat to a powerful government. An entire government thought that opposing words mattered enough to change the minds of their country’s occupants. If words didn’t matter, why would people in these positions of power be so afraid of pieces of paper? Perhaps, they were not as afraid of the words as they were the inspiration they held.
A simple speech can change the lives of millions. There are countless examples of this in history. One of the most famous ones is Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech. In this speech, he talks about justice, injustice and hope. He talks about struggles, equality, and faith. He uses no violence to convey his ideals. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words are powerful and meaningful. He throws no punches, yet he still fights. His wisdom and ideals are passed on in the form of words. He successfully, peacefully changed the lives of millions of individuals, and he used words to do so. To conclude, written and spoken words both hold an immense amount of power. Words can provoke both inspiration and change, and that is why they are important. Now, I challenge the people of Central Oregon to use your words. I challenge you to provoke change and inspiration in others. Use your words to make the world a better place.
Jefferson County Middle School, Grade 7
Words Matter Winner (tie): Third Place in the Middle School Category
When it comes to words with depression, they do matter. When I was younger about 10 years old, in fourth grade, I was showing signs of depression. It wasn’t until my fifth grade year when I was diagnosed with depression. I started my writing experience in my fifth grade year due to my grandmother’s death I was devastated. And that is when words started mattering to me.
In my sixth grade year, I was very depressed. At the beginning of that year words mattered to me because I was being bullied. When I was being bullied the words they said were the only words I listened to. They all had opinions of me and I listened to the words and things they said as if they were my own. Things that were said were like “lose weight, you are fat and ugly” or most of the time I would be told to kill myself because I am not wanted. People are right when they say words matter- they mattered to me and caused me to be suicidal. I believed the things they said because I gave up on myself and listened to them. As the sixth grade year went by everyone said “words hurt and words matter.” I was growing up and I needed to realize that everyone will have things to say, everyone will hate on you as years go by, even as an adult. slowly things begin to change. Timed passed and the year was ending- I didn’t have to put up with all those means words. I could create my own and I will make sure they were good words not hurtful ones. The things I say to myself will be the only words that matter. I should never listen to others who put hate into their words-only the good people who can be trusted will be ones I listen to.
I began to write a lot and rely on my writing to help me with any problems. It seemed like everyone one ran away as soon as I had an issue, but since I could express myself to the paper the way I wanted words became more important. I wrote deeper and deeper. Words are how I can really be who I am without being judged. It’s so easy to be myself alone. I feel better when I am myself. You can’t always rely on what some people say that is why I write. I had a friend who said “I will always be there for you and will not go anywhere.” But once I opened up to him more, he left and said “I will be back when you are happy and not so much drama.” That is reason why my words on paper are easier to rely on.
Growing up writing and being bullied are not the only words that stick like glue to you. Since I do have depression, words like “grow up,” “relax,” “everything will be fine,” “there is someone worse off than you,” etc. Those are things that should never be said to someone depressed but are said every day, everywhere, and every second. They stick to people like they stuck to me. The things that should be said are rarely said-- we just need the right people to say the right things. Some examples would be: “you’re not alone in this,” “you’re important to me,” you are not crazy,” “when this is all over I will still be here and so will you,” I am not going to leave or abandon you and mean this even if others didn’t,” etc. All these words get stuck in someone’s brain and are set there to believe. Say the true words that really do matter and the words that people really want to hear. Words are powerful- they have the power to hurt or heal.
Cascades Academy, Grade 8
Words Matter Winner (tie): Third Place in the Middle School Category
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” -Yehuda Berg. This quote says a lot even with a small amount of words. For me this is a great example why words are so powerful; even this quote has such strong, powerful words which make the statement more intense.
Words are powerful whether spoken, written, or thought. Words are a power that has been given to many. Some people use it for good, others use it to inflict harm on others. Using words, you inflict damage upon others, whether on purpose or on accident. In history, people have used words to create change in good and bad ways. Words are used in everyday life; there are millions of words out there just waiting to be used.
Words have helped me and harmed me in the past. When I hear hurtful words, I tell myself “They’re just words.” Literally yes, figuratively no. Words hurt, confuse, inspire, and reflect what you are thinking. Used wrong, someone’s words could create an uproar and can confuse others. Or, there are words of encouragement to help make people strive to do better. You could mean to give someone encouragement but use the words wrong and hurt their feelings. I could say something like, “you look great today” and the way someone understands it all depends and how my voice sounds.
My parents and my friends always tell me to do well in school and in extracurricular activities. I always try to do it, but sometimes the things that make me want to do better are destructive words. Words that put me down and make me feel bad also help me out in the long run. When someone says something mean, I believe that I could prove them wrong and succeed.
For me it is easier to get my words across when I write. Writing can be addicting to someone and the only way they can really get their true feelings out into the world is to write it out. On the other hand, people who speak powerful words to inflict change upon the world are strong people. Knowing you might be criticized by stating your own opinion out into the world can be nerve racking. Your life could be ruined by others’ powerful words that harm you. Or, your life and others lives might flourish because you got your opinion out into the world for others to hear. Many people’s lives have been made better because of someone’s words. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. helped thousands of people because he decided that the world needed change. He expressed some of his feelings and thoughts out into the world for others to hear, and because he did that, many people followed him to “freedom.” His words inspired others to march against the unfair things that happened to them, it powered them so much that they rebelled unless given justice. Many others can do the same.
People can always express some of their feelings and thoughts anytime, but they choose not to because they may be ridiculed. The key word I used was some, because no one can really say their feelings with just words, and we can simply lie about our feelings and thoughts with the use of words. On the other hand, the main way to express our feelings is using words and that’s what we use the most. Words mean a lot to me and nothing will change that. Words are what guides us and they are powerful whether spoken, written, or thought. You can do something, stand up for something you believe in. There is nothing holding you back.
Cascades Academy, Grade 8
Words Matter Winner: Honorable Mention in the Middle School Category
“Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.” Buddha used his words to preach a kind message. He, along with many other famous figures, believed that words and ideas could change the world. I, too, believe that words have shaped me into a kind and educated individual. Words are a means of communication that should always be intended for good and never for evil.
Humans have been communicating since we first existed. While not all communication happened via verbal sound, all human interactions had some sort of meaning. Some interactions with other humans were inconsequential, based only on the need to survive, while others were more meaningful conversations that could make or break someone’s emotional integrity. It seems that in our modern age, our interactions and communications with people are not always meaningful. They are often abrupt and thoughtless, messages meant for things that aren’t essential conversations. Most communication in today’s era is based upon scheduling and meeting times. People are floating through life not recognizing that their “connections” with people are solely based on a shared interest or activity, not based on the type of person they meet. Some interactions, though, are deeply rooted and share secrets that have been kept for decades.
Almost everyone has at least one daily interaction that hurts them in some way, shape, or form. In the media, we are seeing more words being thrown around, like they are meaningless. It is extremely unfortunate that this has become the new normal. It seems like every article, blog, or video is about someone who used words in a way that degrades someone else. I have certainly experienced times where I felt hurt by words somebody else threw at me, such as, “Oh, our table is full, sorry.” It is small comments like this that can unbelievably change the course and direction of someone’s whole day. I believe that the downfall of our society will not be due to hunger or famine, war or oppression, but the use of injurious words.
Our lives are not meant to be spent taking other people down. We were not put on this earth to hurt other people so that our self confidence can rise to the top. Rather, we were put here to thrive as one city, one nation, one world. It is a shame to hear the way that words are being used. When humans were nothing but mature apes, communication was a way to survive. Yet, words are now used to survive socially, to hope that someone’s hurtful words will allow them to become the “Alpha.”
While most of this essay has focused on the negativity of the way we use words today, there are some daily interactions in which people use words in kind ways. A simple “Hello” with a smile can turn someone’s day around. There have definitely been days where a friend has complimented my outfit or hair; that compliment has made my whole day better. It is important that we make these minor comments more mainstream and common. We need to include more phrases like these in our daily lives.
The way that words have transformed over the decades and centuries is an upsetting thing to think about. It saddens me to know that my children will grow up in a world where words are nothing but sounds out of one’s mouth. I don’t want them to think that these are sounds that shouldn’t mean anything to them and that it doesn’t matter what sounds come out of their mouth. So, I ask you, people of the Central Oregon community, how will you use words in the kindest way you can?
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